This is the story of two glass jars and their content: water and soil.
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It was on March of 2013, when I was still living in a very cold country, that I found via Ryanair roundtrip tickets to Poland for around 45 usd, which I bought as a self birthday present.
So I flew in April 2013 to Krakow, in a 4 days travel on which I stayed at the very center of that city @ the Let’s Rock Hostel. It was a very cold month, even when the winter was supposed to be over, there were remains of snow on the streets. (From that visit I specially remember the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow as being one of the best museums I’ve ever visited)
On the second day I heard a suggestion from the hostel’s staff to visit Oświęcim, a town situated 50 km west of Krakow, better known worldwide by it’s german spelling:”Auschwitz”. And, even going there wasn’t my main intention when I got the tickets, the place’s historical relevance is so tremendous, so I knew I had to go.
Organized tours where very expensive for my budget, so guided by this page I took the bus from Krakow Bus Station, where the german spelling was barely used. The bus and almost all the signals used the polish “Oświęcim”. I thought of WW german soldiers imitating the polish sound and adapting it to their language. I felt that, by having both, Oświęcim and Auschwitz, the Poles have two identities for the place: the polish word to refer to the whole city whose historical identity goes beyond the camp, and the german word to refer specifically to the camp.
That very day there were almost no tourists on the bus. Maybe it was just me, but as the bus was getting closer to Oświęcim, the landscape seemed getting sadder, as you can see on this pics below.
The bright pics are shoots from Krakow, the dark one is from Oświęcim
The bus last stop was some place on Oświęcim, near the concentration camp. Natives seemed to know by far where do foreigners/tourists lead to once they get off that bus, so my lack of polish, were no obstacle for them to knew right away where I wanted to go. They instructed me kindly and clearly.
And this is my very first eyesight to Auschwitz camp from outside of it.
The entrance was free but restricted to a certain schedule, as I said before I didn’t have the economical means to afford it so I went in by my own and saw places very randomly, I didn’t get to see the rooms full with the hair, shoes or glasses of the victims which, I’ve heard, is one of the most shocking views from Auschwitz.
However, this is the first view inside the camp.
Along with this one, which I guess is one of the most iconic images from the camp.
Being there as a tourist was very odd.
How could a place where thousands of people where murdered could end up being a touristic spot?
On the beginning I felt it was rude to take pictures of the place, like “God, this is where people were shot! Let’s take a pic to posting on facebook”, so I was kind of disturbed by others who actually were doing it. I took me a while but, I kind of understood later their motivation. I guess they wanted to hold a bit of history, to take a digital remain of their presence in such a historic place. Most of them were very respectful on the place, no one were taking selfies or smiling on their shoots in the camp.
We were searching for the same thing, to hold a piece of history and taking it back with us.
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Since 2011 I´ve been carrying with me little glass jars (like those above) where I put in physical remains of events: tears from a break up, semen, the last coffee we drank as a couple, etc. This exercise follows the dynamic of the Mnemonic fermentation process which is the process on which time converts remains of an event into memories, melancholy, other kind of nostalgias (and eventually in some cases history). This mnemonic process is better created in space starved environments, such as jars. The mnemonic fermentation is a practical application of the quite probable future principle.
But, Auschwitz is a place that needs no jar to ferment its historical value, so the principle above is of no use on this case. Nevertheless in this case the jar could be used as a transportation device, as the tool that would allow to its owner to hold history into a tiny pocket size jar.
A Portable version of Auschwitz. So I took fragments from two spots inside the camp.
From this very place, outside of Block 11, were people were hanged from a 3 meter post, I took a bit of soil and put it in this jar.
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From this place, were people were executed with gas, I didn’t took anything. I just couldn’t I wouldn’t. It was shocking, specially to see victim’s scratches on the wall made while they were dying.
(I apologize for the very bad pictures, I didn’t felt like set up my camera on time, and it wasn’t really my intention to take pics or anything else from the place)
View from outside the Gas chamber, you can see there were remains of snow and some water outside the buildings. Since I didn’t had the guts yet the cynicism to I took something from inside the Gas chamber, I put muddy water (smelting snow) from outside the Gas chamber into a jar.
The result being this jar.
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To visit Auschwitz has been one of the most.. real facing experiences of my life. The place’s historical meaning is so well preserved that, you actually feel the heaviness of the Holocaust, an aura of sadness and hopelessness remains in there. It is actually weird to get out the camp and walk freely some meters away into the present time were you’ll take the bus back to Krakow.
I think of those murdered on that land whose remain I’ve got into these little jars, if humans essence is something that sticks into things and places, some of their essences are here, already gone from Europe, miles away from Auschwitz inside this mini jars.